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On their way back to Garden Heights, Starr and Lisa stop at a police roadblock. Starr panics, imagining the police shooting them. Starr keeps her eyes closed while the police question Lisa, Maverick’s advice for talking to cops echoing in her head. The stop ends without incident, and Lisa reassures Starr that everything is fine. Starr realizes that those words, even from Lisa, no longer console her.
At home, Maverick asks Starr to join him for a store supply run. In the car, Maverick plays an album by Tupac. Starr mentions that Khalil talked about Thug Life the night he died. Maverick asks Starr what she thinks it means. She repeats Khalil’s explanation, but adds that it’s about black people and other minorities. Society fears minorities though they are the most oppressed. Maverick asks Starr what she thinks the “hate” is, pushing her to consider why Khalil and others sell drugs. Starr says they don’t have many ways to earn money. Maverick explains that because black neighborhoods have few jobs and inadequate schools, black people lack opportunities. Drugs don’t come from poor black neighborhoods yet the people who bring them there profit greatly. Drug addicts become dependent on drugs and lose their jobs. Drug dealers go to prison. Many businesses won’t hire former criminals. These factors create a system stacked against black communities. This system is Thug Life.
Starr asks why Khalil had to sell drugs if Maverick was able to leave gang life. Maverick says that Starr cannot judge Khalil without knowing his situation. He asks what she thinks Thug Life has to do with the protests. Starr says that Khalil’s death is part of the hate, and if black communities don’t speak up, nothing will change. Starr realizes that if speaking out is the only way to change things, she cannot stay silent.
After buying supplies, Starr and Maverick head to the store. DeVante interrupts them. Maverick asks who he’s hiding from. DeVante admits he’s hiding from King, who wants DeVante to shoot Dalvin’s killers. DeVante doesn’t want to kill anyone. He asks Maverick how he escaped gang life. Maverick decided to quit after Starr’s birth because he realized being a King Lord was not worth dying for. When the police arrested King and Maverick for weapons possession, Maverick took the charge for King. This left King indebted to Maverick, and Maverick used this leverage to leave. Maverick explains he got lucky, but agrees to help DeVante escape gang life. He offers DeVante a job at the store and tells Starr to teach him how to work the pricing gun.
DeVante asks Starr why she hates him. Starr says it’s because he dates a lot of girls. DeVante protests that he wasn’t dating Denasia, but Denasia was jealous of Kenya. He laments that if he hadn’t been distracted by relationship drama, he could have saved Dalvin. He and Starr share a moment of grief. Starr thinks she can help DeVante even though she was too late to help Khalil.
That night, Lisa and Maverick argue over Maverick hiding DeVante at their house. Lisa berates him for endangering the family, accusing him of helping DeVante because he couldn’t help Khalil. Maverick insists that Garden Heights is dangerous for DeVante. Lisa wants to know why they won’t move if Garden Heights is dangerous. Maverick believes his children are safe because they’re not in gangs. Lisa counters that Sekani can’t play in the street. Maverick doesn’t want to move because he doesn’t want to teach his children to abandon their neighborhood instead of working to change it. She tells Maverick to choose between his family and his neighborhood. Starr worries her parents’ relationship is another casualty of One-Fifteen.
The police stop at the beginning of Chapter Ten illustrates how Khalil’s murder traumatized Starr. The flashbacks and panic are classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental condition commonly associated with soldiers returning from war. Starr’s PTSD symbolizes the long-term effects of violence on the emotional well-being of black children. That Starr has a condition associated with war means that police and gang violence turn black neighborhoods into war-like zones. Moreover, Starr no longer believes Lisa’s words of comfort because Starr has lost the childhood belief in her parents’ ability to keep her safe. Starr knows that if the police stop turned violent, Lisa could not have protected her any better than Khalil, and the results would have been equally devastating. Starr’s awareness shows that black children are forced to realize their own vulnerability in the world and their parents’ inability to change that.
Maverick’s expanded understanding of Thug Life clarifies the links between the police and the gangs, and reveals how they create an interconnected cycle of racialized poverty that destroys black neighborhoods. Thomas named the novel after this cycle because it underpins Khalil’s death and the resulting fallout. When we look at Khalil’s story through Maverick’s framework, we understand that King trapped Khalil into drug dealing because Khalil lacked other economic options, while the police use Khalil’s drug dealing to justify shooting him. Maverick insists Starr cannot judge Khalil for not escaping this cycle because without support or money, it is too strong to break. This conversation marks a turning point for Starr because it demonstrates the true cost of her silence. Khalil’s death, while a tragedy in its own right, is also part of a system that hurts her entire community. Starr realizes that her silence means complicity in this cycle.
Read more about Maverick’s understanding of the quote about “Thug Life.”
Maverick’s story about leaving gang life reveals the difficulty of breaking the cycle of Thug Life, which sets up the challenges ahead for DeVante. Maverick had to sacrifice his freedom, losing time with Starr at a young age, to ultimately break free. That Maverick was forced to go to prison symbolizes how powerful the cycle is because he was separated from his children for three years, leaving them vulnerable. The juxtaposition between Maverick’s Thug Life lecture and his decision to help DeVante emphasizes that a support system is key to breaking the cycle. DeVante cannot escape alone because he is a teenager without resources and support, but Maverick can help him because he is a responsible adult. Significantly, Maverick asks Starr to teach DeVante how to use a pricing gun, foreshadowing the change in DeVante’s life because instead of using a gun as a weapon he has a gun as a tool.
Read about the author’s life and how it intersects with Starr’s.
The argument between Maverick and Lisa showcases the tension between political ideals and lived experience. Maverick’s ideals uplift and inspire, but they also carry real danger. Despite the beautiful parts of Garden Heights, it is a dangerous space because of Thug Life. Lisa acts as the voice of experience because she reminds Maverick that violence compromises their children’s safety and innocence, and their ability to have normal lives. In this chapter, Starr’s PTSD supports Lisa’s perspective. Maverick has not yet learned the balance between helping his neighborhood and living out his ideals with protecting his family, another important part of his values. Lisa’s insistence that Maverick choose family over Garden Heights highlights the difficult choices black adults must make for their children due to systemic conditions of poverty and violence in their neighborhoods.
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